It's that perfect calm that comes when the sap stills in the pines, snow filters through the bows and winter’s crust blankets the earth.
For me, winter is a great time for hiking in Alberta. And no, I’m not crazy! Think about this: there are far less people trailside, bears are asleep in their hollows and the air is refreshingly crisp. I promise that you’ll gain a whole new perspective on familiar summer byways softened and silenced in snow.
Here’s my list of must-do winter hikes in Alberta. Now grab that down jacket, mitts and scarf and head into the Great Outdoors.
Grotto Canyon, Canmore / Kananaskis Country
Back in my rock climbing heyday I clung to the walls of Grotto Canyon, keenly focused on the view above. Now, with kids, it’s great to see the slabs from a fresh perspective – from the bottom of the frozen creek bed that winds along the canyon floor. The hike dead-ends at an impressive waterfall that looks like a layered skirt. You’ll likely see intrepid ice climbers making their way upward. It’s 4 km (2.5 mi) to the waterfalls and back.
Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park
You’ll find this beautiful canyon just 30 minutes from the town of Banff, near Lake Louise. It’s popular year round and exceptionally beautiful in winter. The trails are well groomed and a series of catwalks attached to limestone cliffs offer dramatic views of the partially frozen waterway below. Whether you choose the 2.4 km (1.5 mi) round trip Lower Falls or make the 4.8 km (3 mi) trek to the Upper Falls and back, you’ll be amazed by the sparkling spectacle of icicles and frozen waterfalls. If you tackle the Upper Falls, I recommend wearing ice cleats. It can get slippery up there.
Wapiti Campground, Jasper National Park
I love to take the kids, the dog, and a big thermos of hot chocolate to Wapiti Campground in Jasper National Park for a weekend of winter camping and hiking. There’s something magical about waking to a world draped in white and it feels great to get outside after being cooped up indoors all week. This is just about my favourite place in the mountains for winter hiking. And the short trip into town for fresh baking and espresso is just as special as the stunning views along the banks of the Athabasca River.
Miquelon Lake Provincial Park
Less than an hour southeast of Edmonton, Miquelon is open year round with winter camping as well. Best way to hike here is on snowshoes along the rolling terrain groomed for cross-country skiers. Bring your own or rent them here. Remember to walk beside the track sets and not in them, to keep the skiers happy. This place is great because you have plenty of opportunity to spot wildlife like moose, deer, coyotes, snowshoe hare, woodpeckers, chickadees and ruffled grouse.
Winter winds on the prairies do a good job of removing the snow in places like Dinosaur and Writing-on-Stone provincial parks. Hiking here in winter, you’re likely only sharing the space with the hoodoos – and the badlands have a totally different atmosphere in winter that’s definitely worth checking out.